« AnteriorContinuar »
with severe fines and imprisonment, and in some instances with death itself!
Nor are the laws respecting this matter a dead letter. Cases may occur in which they are disregarded, and a few instances may be found where slaves may have learned to read; but such are isolated cases, and only prove the rule. The great mass of slaveholders look upon education among the slaves as utterly subversive of the slave system. I well remember when my mistress first announced to my master that she had discovered that I could read. His face colored at once, with surprise and chagrin. He said that "I was ruined, and my value as a slave destroyed; that a slave should know nothing but to obey his master; that to give a negro an inch would lead him to take an ell; that having learned how to read I would soon want to know how to write; and that, by and by, I would be running away." I think my audience will bear witness to the correctness of this philosophy, and to the literal fulfillment of this prophecy.
Here is an eloquent extract upon
MAN'S RIGHT TO LIBERTY.
Indeed, I ought to state, what must be obvious to all, properly speaking, there is no such thing as new truth; for truth, like the God whose attribute it is, is eternal. In this sense, there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. Error may be properly designated as old or new, since it is but a misconception, or an incorrect view of the truth. Misapprehensions of what truth is have their beginnings and their endings. They pass away as the race move onward. But truth is "from everlasting to everlasting," and can never pass away.
Such is the truth of man's right to liberty. It existed in the very idea of man's creation. It was his even before he comprehended it. He was created in it, endowed with it, and it can never be taken from him. No laws, no statutes, no compacts, no covenants, no compromises, no constitutions, can abrogate or destroy it. It is beyond the reach of the strongest earthly arm, and smiles at the ravings of tyrants from its hiding-place in the bosom of God. Men may hinder its exercise -they may act in disregard of it-they are even permitted to war against it; but they fight against heaven, and their career must be short, for Eternal Providence will speedily vindicate the right.
The existence of this right is self-evident. It is written upon all the powers and faculties of man. The desire for it is the deepest and strongest of all the powers of the human soul. Earth, sea, and air-great nature, with her thousand voices, proclaims it.
In the language of Addison we may apostrophize it:
"Oh Liberty! thou goddess, heavenly bright,
I have said that the right to liberty is self-evident. No argument, no researches into mouldy records, no learned disquisitions, are necessary to establish it. To assert it, is to call forth a sympathetic response from every human heart, and to send a thrill of joy and gladness round the world. Tyrants, oppressors, and slaveholders are stunned by its utterance; while the oppressed and enslaved of all lands hail it as an an
gel of deliverance. Its assertion in Russia, in Austria, in Egypt, in fifteen states of the American Union, is a crime. In the harems of Turkey, and on the southern plantations of Carolina, it is alike prohibited; for the guilty oppressors of every clime understand its truth, and appreciate its electric power.
A portion of the citizens of Rochester invited Mr. Douglass, in 1852, to deliver a Fourth of July oration. He complied with the request, and gave a speech full of passionate, indignatory eloquence. We make two or three extracts from it:
THE WHITE MAN'S FOURTH OF JULY.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me; allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that declaration of independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give. his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nations's jubilee, when
the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."
But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice; I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand, illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot-street, Fell's Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves the slave-ships in the basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was at that time a grand slave-mart kept at the head of Pratt-street, by Austin Woldfolle. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival through the papers, and on flaming "handbills" headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother, by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.
The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave-prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for, since the anti-slavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.
In the deep, still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead, heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my